Facebook is spending $300 million on reviving local news

Image: REUTERS/Jon Nazca
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Facebook announced today (Jan. 15) that it is giving $300 million in grants to various organizations that are trying to help local journalism thrive in today’s difficult media market.

“There are two key areas where we hope to help: supporting local journalists and newsrooms with their newsgathering needs in the immediate future; and helping local news organizations build sustainable business models, through both our product and partnership work,” Campbell Brown, head of global news partnerships at Facebook, said in a post.

Among the organizations receiving the funds are the Pulitzer Center, Report For America, the Knight-Lenfest Local News Transformation Fund, and several others.

While the funding is much needed, there’s an inherent tension in tech companies’ efforts to boost local reporting, Matthew Ingram at the Columbia Journalism Review pointed out in May (Google has similarly invested hundreds of millions of dollars into news initiatives). Digital advertising—where Facebook and Google are dominant forces—has shrunk newsroom budgets, traditionally reliant on print ads. Distribution of journalism online became reliant on the whims of those very companies and their algorithms, leading to more pain for the industry. Meanwhile, platforms like Facebook also gave rise to the era of misinformation and fake news, which undermine real journalism.

“We also have an opportunity, and a responsibility, to help local news organizations grow and thrive,” Campbell writes, suggesting the motivation is in part, a sense of obligation. But it’s also just some necessary PR.

The Silicon Valley giants are under increasing media scrutiny for their misdeeds and shortcomings, which both makes this tension even more awkward, and pushes the tech companies to search for some goodwill.